Sunday, September 15, 2013

A drive to the lake

Some days just come out as poems.  It takes a lot of concentration to drive a full fifteen passenger van with a screaming child that is your own.  I know this one is kind of long, but I would love to hear comments.  

White car on black road
A butterfly in the sun
Swept up in car wind

I must drive carefully
My daughter screams
I turn it up
So I do not
 have to
find the words
to speak to the man beside me
who thinks in Kaba, Songo and French

I wonder what he
and the other seven people
his wife and brother and three children
and the single mother and her toddler
refugees from wars
I can’t understand

I wonder what they think
Of my daughter
Who screams from the
Way back seat

And I wonder how
War or parenting can make
Children who are so quiet
And how
I and parenting can make
Children who scream so loud

I turn off the music
And tell her
I can’t tell her
What it all means
If it is so loud.

So we drive in
A kind of
Eight quiet passengers
and my four fussing children
my precious cargo

I remind myself
That this is fun
That this too shall

I notice the butterflies on the road
and pray each time
that the big white van
won’t crush their
long awaited wings
with 60mph winds

Stupid Butterflies
I want to scream
Don’t you know this road is not safe
Don’t look for life and comfort here!

The sign says:
Low or Soft Shoulder

I remember Yoga class
And let my shoulders drop
And breathe
And listen
To my daughter say
Mama I have to

So we stop
Fifteen minutes away
At the gas station
And interrupt the
Indian man on his cell phone
To ask where to find and use
The Rest Room
And he points us
To the room
With scum gray walls
And she sighs with relief
As she sits on that dirty seat

We return to
Thirteen patient passengers
And the van that smells like
Like the smell of the airport
In Dar Es Salaam
The smell of people
I love

I breathe
and smile
We are almost there.

The sign says:
This road ends in the water

We tumble out and
 step off jagged rocks into
 the welcoming waves

and the air is sweet for the drive home

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Butterfly for Breakfast with Baked Oatmeal Recipe

                Sometimes grace unfurls its wings and settles in the least deserving and unlikely of places.  On any given morning at our breakfast table we feast on a buffet of whining, spilling, complaining, begging, belching, singing, scolding, story telling, scientific instruction, day planning and oh yes, food.  Yesterday we were startled out of our small busy selves to delight in new life.

                Michael had gone out to do the milking.  (This doesn’t happen every morning, but our friend who usually milks is on vacation so for these weeks he is doing it.)  I made baked oatmeal with last summer’s frozen blueberries that we are still enjoying until the ones on the bushes ripen.  While breakfast baked, my eight and ten year olds sprawled on the couches and read while I tried to wash some dishes and unearth our kitchen table and counter from the layers of end of the school year papers.  At breakfast time I insisted that they get dressed even though school is out.  My eight year old daughter, Zora, came down dressed for a birthday party that would happen two days from then.  I reminded her that if she wore those clothes now and they got dirty they wouldn’t be clean on Saturday.  (We share 2 washing machines with 40 people -and one is broken now- and only line dry our clothes so just washing and drying whenever is not an option.)  I try not to be too controlling about what the kids wear but, I have been trying to help the kids think about “town” clothes and “farm” clothes.  I think I seemed more controlling than helpful.  She kept on the sweet outfit but her mood had soured considerably.
                We gathered around the table and I suggested that we sing a couple of songs like Bruderhoff families do in their homes at breakfast.  Since Michael had milked and I’d made breakfast I felt very wholesome and “farmy.”  Zora whined, “Why do we have to be like other families?  Why can’t we just be like our family?”  And I retorted, “Why can’t our family sing together before we eat?”  At three year old Phoebe’s suggestion we sang, “This Little Light of Mine.”  Phoebe, sang beautifully while Zora buried her head in her arms, big brother, Malachi sang and mocked her while five year old Seraphina was still in her room getting dressed (we’ve learned not to rush her).  Malachi suggested “All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir.” We started to sing but Phoebe broke into hysterics while Zora still pouted.  I sighed, “Maybe one song is enough for today.”
                Zora and Seraphina had Raisin Bran because my food looked awful.  The rest of us enjoyed the baked oatmeal.  Michael and I were drinking coffee and talking through the plans for the day when suddenly I gasped.  There on the shelf behind the table was a butterfly!  We had been expecting it but it still took my breath away.  I brought the green caterpillar home on a sprig of parsley two weeks ago and put it in a glass trifle dish as our centerpiece.  We delighted as it munched through leaves and pooped.  Then we watched it get very still on its twig. One morning it was caterpillar the next chrysalis.  After that it got a little boring.  A dry stick in a glass dish full of caterpillar poop isn’t so attractive so I moved it off the table.  The night before, I had notice that the chrysalis had turned black- a sign that a butterfly would emerge soon.  But in all the bustle of getting four kids bedded down I forgot to mention it.  It was only when we saw it gently opening and closing its new wings that we remembered that we had invited it in to our home.
                I got the twig and held it at the table while we all watched it.  Malachi reminded us of a caterpillar that we raised in Philadelphia.  The butterfly ended up flying in our kitchen and its wings were damaged before it ever went outside.  We were not going to repeat that tragedy.  So, Michael grabbed the camera and we went outside and stuck the stick in a potted plant and watched it.  Zora gently put out her finger for it to crawl onto then she let it back onto its twig.  Michael snapped some shots and we all went back in.  Not fully redeemed but in that twinkling moment turned one degree closer to glory. 
We weren’t suddenly transformed into a new family. There are still books and papers on almost every horizontal surface.  There are baskets full of dirty, folded and needing to be folded laundry.  The sink is full of dishes.  The kids still whine and fuss.  But, the six of us got quiet enough for one moment to watch a butterfly and to delight together.  We invited a stranger into our home and it blessed us beyond measure.  I hope that is what they will remember when they are older.
Baked Oatmeal with Blueberries (modified from Simply in Season)
Preheat oven to 350F
2 cups rolled oats
1/3 cup Brown Sugar
1 tsp baking powder

In a 4 cup  measuring cup (so that you don’t have to dirty up a bowl) whisk together:
one cup of milk
Add ½ cup of applesauce
                2 T of oil
                1 beaten egg
Pour over oat mixture. ( I had about a cup of leftover cooked oatmeal that I added at this point too) Mix well.   Stir in 1-2 cups of fresh or frozen blueberries
Pour into a greased 8 inch square pan.  Bake 25 or so (I think I baked it longer maybe 45 minutes because the leftover oatmeal made it mushier).
Serve warm with milk. (offer dry cereal to your picky eaters)

Friday, May 17, 2013

Monsters, Personhood, Race and Abortion

I'm not claiming to be an expert on any of this but I do want to add some of my thoughts surrounding this case and I would love to hear what others think about it too.

“Dr. Kermit Gosnell is not the monster the media is making him out to be”  these were the words of his defense attorney after he was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences for the murder of three babies and death of a woman who had attended his notorious abortion clinic on Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia, PA.  Strangely enough, I agree.  If you aren't familiar with the case here is a non-biased link which sums it up pretty well

When this case first surfaced a few years ago I would have agreed with anyone who called him a monster.  I remember the horror and disgust I felt at the descriptions in the news of the filthy and deplorable condition of his office when they shut it down.    I remember cradling my new daughter’s head in my hands and cringing at the thought of a baby’s spinal cord being cut by scissors as “procedure”.   A good friend of mine called me just as I had absorbed a huge dose of information about this case and I began to spew out the details and my emotional reactions.  I was expecting affirmation of all I said but instead my friend listened to my tirade in polite silence.  Then she told me that she was also very upset about the same news but for different reasons.  She knew the man, not the monster.  She had gone to school with his kids, she told me of a woman that we both knew and respected who had been going to him as her gynecologist for decades.  Our friend trusted him and admired him as a doctor who was reaching out to care for the young, poor, black, and underserved women of Philadelphia.  She was so upset at the way the media was making him out to be a heartless beast.  Suddenly this monster in my mind was a friend of a friend, a person whose good intentions had gone severely askew; but a person, nonetheless.  As furious as I am about his actions, demonizing this man does nothing to promote life or diminish the continuing tragedy of abortion.

The question of personhood is central to much of the talk surrounding abortion.  Though he did not testify in court, it is clear in his plea of innocence that Dr. Gosnell believes viable fetuses to be non-persons.  That belief allowed him to objectify children that could survive outside of the womb as tissue to be extracted not people killed.  A brief look at world history reveals that the ability to see people as less than human paves the way for genocide.  It is not murder because they are not people.  Labeling criminals as “monsters” also strips them of their humanity.  If we want a society that recognizes that personhood has a clear beginning at conception then we must maintain the belief that personhood continues throughout one’s entire life.

I called this friend yesterday to see what she thought about the outcome of Dr. Gosnell’s trial.  She was relieved that he did not receive the death penalty, and also relieved that the trial had not been as sensationalized by the media as it could have been.  She also no longer held any illusions about him as a misunderstood champion for the poor.    What we both found most distressing was that his irresponsible actions had gone unchecked for decades. 

I could not help but wonder if authorities would have intervened sooner had the majority of his victims been white.  Did is earlier reputation as “the people’s doctor” blind people to the atrocities that he was carrying out?  The fact that authorities turned a blind eye on the countless reports of abuse and negligence seems to affirm that the scourge of racism is felt even by the unborn.  I am actually not advocating that abortion be made illegal and thus return women to dangerous back alley abortion clinics much like Dr. Gosnell’s.  I am urging people on both sides of the debate to consider the fact that African-American children are the primary victims and that they seem to be valued as less than human by our society even before they are born.  Though you may not agree with this whole website the data in the following link helps to make this point more clear.

We live in a sick and violent society.  Dr. Gosnells’s clinic revealed symptoms of much deeper problems in our community.  It is good that his clinic is closed and that he will no longer be able to hurt women and children.  But it is foolish to believe that now that this “monster” is out of work that this problem is solved.  The fact that women still sought out and paid money for his services despite the awful conditions reveal deep seated problems that still exist.  If we want to change our society we need to hold individuals to account for their actions, while still respecting their humanity and also seek to transform the forces that are still producing such a high demand for abortions. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013


 Happy Ascension day!  This is the day on the church calendar that we celebrate Jesus ascension.  I led worship last Sunday at Jubilee and decided to focus on this story and thought I might go ahead and share it here too.  My husband Michael has been trying teaching himself to read the New Testament in Greek and I had some fun learning a little for this.  We sang "Christus Victor,""Holy Holy Holy," "Over my Head," "Only in God is my Soul at Rest" and "Our God Reigns"  We also had special music from Genia and her siblings Christ and Georfie from Congo Brazzaville.   She sang a song about Jesus being the living water and had also written a song about Jesus walking on water.  She taught some volunteers the songs and moves she made up to go with it.  When she was done I asked if anyone could translate and there was a visitor who spoke perfect French who could help us fully appreciate the message.  Hope you enjoy!
Acts 1:1-11 
1 In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying[a] with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Of all the stories in the Bible of Jesus' life on earth- his immaculate conception, countless miracles of healing, feeding crowds, taming the weather and walking on water, his resurrection and ascension into heaven – one of the hardest ones for me to wrap my head around is his ascension. I read a commentary that said when folks believed the earth was flat and didn’t know what was beyond the sky it was not a stretch for them to think of a flat earth sandwiched between heaven above and hell below. Now that science and technology have allowed us to probe and explore the depths of our earth and our vast universe and even consider universes beyond our own, belief in a bodily ascension in which Jesus went “up” to heaven seems really hard to believe. So this week as I read and reread this story and countless sermons and commentaries on it in preparation for today, I tried to read the ascension with new eyes. To lay aside my doubts but to also lay aside images of old European paintings of Jesus swirling up in a cloud, his blond curls blowing in the wind, while is disciples gaped in amazement. I have been trying to imagine what it was really like to be there and what it means for us, his disciples two thousand years after the fact.
Forty days after his resurrection the eleven living disciples that he had chosen were staying in Jerusalem because Jesus had promised the gift of the Holy Spirit would come to them soon. When he appeared to them this time they wondered if he could go ahead and restore the kingdom of Israel already. After all they had been through with him they still didn’t get it. They wanted an earthly king to establish an earthly kingdom. Jesus assured them that it was not for them to know the times that his Father had set, then he told them that they will be his witnesses throughout all the world. They were asking Jesus what they hoped for when he rode into Jerusalem on palm Sunday,  "Can you go ahead and rule us as an earthly king?" Instead he empowered them by sending them out to his witnesses. After this “he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight." Where he would have authority over everything not just Israel. 
“He was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight.” The last time we saw a cloud in the Bible is the story of the transfiguration in which Peter, James, and John see Elijah, Moses and Jesus together and hear the voice of God from a bright cloud. It is also upon a cloud that Jesus tells us he will return. The Greek word used for cloud in this case is Nephele which is the same word used to describe the cloud that guided the Israelites through the wilderness and the clouds in Revelation upon which Jesus and angels proclaim the glory of God. Shekinah is a word that doesn’t appear in the Bible, but ancient Rabbi’s used it to describe the presence of God like the pillar of cloud that guided the people. Shekinah is derived from the Hebrew verb שכן to settle, inhabit, or dwell. So here we have two words the greek “Nephele” makes us look up to the clouds the Hebrew “Shekinah” makes us settle down. 

When you picture a cloud in your mind what do you think of?  Something light and airy, fluffy and blown by the wind? All of these are true. When you think of dwelling or inhabiting what do you picture? Something solid with walls and a roof, unmovable, unshakable, permanent, rooted, safe? All of these could be true too. But let’s try to stretch our understanding a little wider have you ever thought about how much a cloud weighs in pounds? Scientists say that a little cumulus cloud weighs about the same as 100 elephants! A thunderstorm cloud is like 200,000 elephants! There is a tremendous weight to clouds. So when we imagine Jesus being taken up in a cloud, that is the presence of God, we can see the power and weight of God’s glory, something like thousands of elephants, revealed in something as light as a cloud. In his ascension Jesus went away with a promise to endow us with his Holy Spirit. I imagine his Ascension less as a bodily trip into outer space as a bodily vaporization of a solid Jesus into God’s Holy presence that then becomes accessible to each of us like drops of Holy Spirit rain in a cloud- showering down healing, blessings and his very presence to sustain us as we wait for fullness of his Glory to be revealed.

While on retreat at Conyers Monastery this spring I found some goose down by the pond. I picked up some soft as a cloud down and and held it in the palm of my hand. When I closed my eyes I could not tell the down was there, but I felt warmth on my palm, assuring me of its presence. Psalm 91 says, “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” God’s love and protection for us is complete but not confining, we have the freedom to move and can easily blow Him off or scurry away and leave God’s presence but if we enter into those gentle wings or that bright cloud we will be filled with warmth and comfort and safety. 

The Angels said, “what are you doing looking up?” Jesus had already given them a job to do, to go and be his witnesses.  They just assured them that it was time to shift their gaze to one another and trust that He would return and the Holy Spirit would come to help them. So how do we bear witness? He is present in our listening ears and kind words spoken, in acts of generosity and service in bearing one another’s burden and washing one another’s feet. In our courage to speak truth to power, to challenge oppressive structures, to declare authority over powers and principalities that seek to destroy. How do you know he is there? I was talking with a friend who went through a very hard time and kept asking God for help yet nothing changed. She began to lose her faith in God. But then when she had the courage to leave that bad situation she realized God was there all along, waiting for her to move in faith, and giving her the strength by the Holy Spirit to do it. We have been entrusted as the hands, feet, eyes, ears and mouths of Jesus and to let people know where we have seen him. So have you seen Jesus? Have you felt his presence? What is your story?

Friday, March 29, 2013

Warm Coffee on Good Friday Morning

This is a reflection from Good Friday 2012.  My friend Coffee is now 93 and a half.  Her vision and hearing are getting worse, but she still came to my second grade daughter's school musical this week.  I am so thankful to know her and that she let me share this experience with you all.  May the joy of walking with the ressurrected Lord fill you with peace and hope! 
               I sat alone in cool darkness on a folding lawn chair in a little patch of woods that we call our Gethsemane, the place where each year members of our community hold an all night prayer vigil between Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.  I chose the dawn shift.  Night shadows crept away as morning’s light helped me to discern the shapes of leaves, the trees in the distance, the small bodies of birds whose songs filled the air.  I heard quiet footsteps moving slowly along the path and then I saw her form, small and slightly stooped, using her cane for balance, approaching the garden.  It was my friend Coffee, the oldest member of our community.  She settled into the other creaky old lawn chair beside me for the last hour of prayer before “Peter,” one of our community volunteers would end our vigil by describing to a gathered crowd how he felt and all that happened that night.  We smiled but didn’t exchange words, honoring the sacred quiet that had been nurtured by our friends through the night.
                Though my mouth was closed, my eyes were prayerfully open that dawn.  I regarded her ninety-two and a half year old frame in the rickety chair and saw that she did not, like me, look like someone who just rolled out of bed and stumbled into the darkness.  She had taken the time, at dawn, to independently shower and wash her hair and dress for the day.  Her hair, still damp and clinging to her scalp made her look more delicate than she usually appears to me when her hair is dry and frames her head in a cottony cloud of white.  She grabbed at her head and huffed at herself for not taking the time to dry her hair or even bring a hat.
                At this point I could no longer simply close my eyes and return to inner silence.  This time of prayer required loving action.  I looked under tarps for the blankets that were not there.  They had been taken inside by others when April showers briefly wet the night.  I wrapped my orange scarf around her head and told her I would be back.  My 33 year old legs were nimble and full of life.  I took no notice of the roots and stones and slight dips and rises in the terrain as I hurried out of the woods.  The path that had been lit by tin can luminaria whose candles had expired in the night led me to the community library where I found heaps of crocheted Afghans.  I grabbed an armload of blankets, carried my light and easy load back across the dewy grass and returned to the thicket where I found Coffee reading the Bible.  I draped her shoulders in purple and blue and her lap was warmed with orange and brown.  She offered to give me back the scarf on her head but I insisted that she keep it on her still damp head.  I was warm from the run and thankful for the blanket on my own lap and the crisp air on my neck as we sat together in prayer.  I was thankful to be sitting beside my friend who had become regal - wrapped in the colors of heaven and earth.
               Coffee would scoff if she heard me describe her in this way.  As a preacher’s daughter, Christian educator, long-term missionary in Korea, and a decades long member of intentional Christian communities she has spent nearly a century cloaked in humility and service.  She has shared with our community that the biggest challenge in aging is the struggle of not feeling useful and of being a burden to others.  Though she no longer has any official jobs in our community, the one thing she does faithfully is come to morning prayer at 8AM Monday through Friday.  My husband and I come when we can but the pressing needs of children and work make it a challenging discipline to keep in this season of life.  Each morning she faithfully wraps up beloved ones in prayer and offers them to God’s tender care.  She takes seriously the work of prayer and our community and countless others are better for it.
               Soon a small crowd had gathered and we waited expectantly in silence for Peter to come.  A college-aged man ran in with a towel pinned over his clothes like a toga and told his harrowing account of that last night with Jesus.  After he gave his dramatic speech and hurried away for fear of capture we all scattered away from our imagined Gethsemane back into the present time and space.  I could have walked away alone at my normal hurried pace, but instead I chose to walk at Coffee’s pace.  The topography of the field from her point of view zoomed into my focus.  She held my arm in one hand and her cane in the other as she commented.  “My, this is quite a hill for me,” she paused to catch her breath, “But, Jesus’ path was steeper….and he had to carry a cross too.  That is something to think about.” 
               Later that day I found my orange scarf neatly folded in my mailbox with a short note of thanks.   I wondered if she even knew what a gift she had given to me that morning.  Did she know what a blessing it was that I could offer her comfort in a place where Jesus had received none, that I could be a faithful friend to her in a place where Jesus’ friends thought only of themselves; that I could, in a simple physical gesture, offer to her the comfort and peace that she daily offers to loved ones through her prayer and presence; that in her moment of need, and I am sure there will be more in the years to come, she brought me closer to the Kingdom of Heaven.